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VP-81 / VPB-121 | Theater-made patch


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VP-81 / VPB-121 | Patrol Squadron Eighty-one

Established VP-19 1 Oct 1937
Redesignated VP-43 1 Jul 1939
Redesignated VP-81 1 Jul 1941
Redesignated VPB-121 1 Oct 1944
Disestablished 1 Jun 1946

PBY-5 | May 1941
PBY-5A | Aug 1943
PB4Y-1 Sep 1944
PB4Y-2 | Oct 1944


Theater-made. Multi-piece leather, hand-painted detail.




"...Because it spent nearly half of the first year of its commissioning in Alaska, Patrol Squadron Eighty-One chose the Polar Bear standing on Mt. Edgecombe, a volcanic cone outside Sitka Harbor, one of the landmarks of South-eastern Alaska. The area is further denoted by the constellation of Ursa Major pointing to Polaris. Colors: Blue sky, white bear and mountain, black circle. VP-19 to VP-43 to VP-81..." [Larkins]



1 September 1942: VP-81 was transferred to NAS San Juan, Puerto Rico, under the operational control of PatWing-12. The squadron conducted Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) searches in the Caribbean area.

1 June 1943: The squadron was relocated to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the operational control of FAW-11. ASW patrols, night antishipping patrols and convoy coverage were the primary duties of VP-81.

1 August 1943: VP-81 was transferred to NAS San Diego, California, in preparation for the trans-Pacific flight to the South Pacific. New amphibious models of the Catalina, PBY-5As, were assigned as replacement aircraft while the squadron underwent additional training for its upcoming combat assignment.

1 November 1943: The squadron flew its trans-Pacific to NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where additional training was given before further reassignment to the combat zone.

25 November 1943: VP-81 was transferred to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, relieving VP-54. Its duties consisted of search missions of the Saint George Channel, providing convoy coverage and nighttime Black Cat operations. The squadron came under the operational control of FAW-1.

3 February 1944: VP-81 was transferred to Munda, New Georgia Islands. Black Cat operations were conducted in conjunction with nearby PT boat squadrons. Bombing strikes against land-based installations were carried out in the Choiseul Bay area.

7 May 1944: VP-81 was relocated to Piva Airfield, Bougainville Island, where Black Cat nighttime operations were conducted against enemy shipping.

1 July 1944: The squadron returned to NAS San Diego.

8 September 1944: Upon return from leave, squadron aircrews were reassigned PB4Y-1 Liberators in place of Catalinas. Ground school and flight training took place at NAAF Camp Kearney, California. The squadron came under the operational control of FAW-14. Training had progressed to the advanced syllabus at NAS Brown Field, California, in preparation for the upcoming second combat tour in the Pacific. While in training, the squadron was assigned the PB4Y-2 Privateer in place of the older Liberator aircraft.

6 January 1945: VPB-121 flew its trans-Pacific flight to NAS Kaneohe Bay, where the squadron began intensive training in radar navigation. Operational search patrols in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands were also assigned as part of the training.

26 January – 1 February 1945: The squadron was relocated to Midway Island and put on barrier patrols and daytime ASW patrols, returning to NAS Kaneohe Bay on 1 February 1945.

1 March – 1 April 1945: VPB-121 was transferred to Eniwetok. On 7 March 1945, the squadron conducted its first strikes on land installations at Wake Island. The missions continued through 1 April, when Ponape was added to the target list.

3 July 1945: VPB-121 was transferred to Tinian. On 8 July a detachment was assigned to Iwo Jima.

3 August 1945: Two Privateers from the Iwo Jima detachment spotted a downed P-51 pilot floating near the enemy-occupied island of Sagami Nada. While directing an American submarine to the location, the two aircraft sank one enemy ship that tried to interfere, and downed three Japanese fighters. Lieutenant Ralph D. Ettinger and his crew accounted for two of the eight fighters that attacked the Privateers. For his bravery in leading the defense against superior enemy forces for over 40 minutes of constant action, Ettinger was awarded the Navy Cross. Lieutenant Commander Raymond J. Pflum, commanding officer of VPB-121, was the pilot of the second aircraft. His crew shot down one of the enemy fighters and was responsible for sinking the Japanese cargo vessel. He was also awarded the Navy Cross.

7 August 1945: Two of the squadron’s Privateers were caught by five enemy fighters in the area of Sagami Wan. One enemy aircraft was shot down and one of the squadron PB4Y-2 bombers was shot down in flames, with no survivors.



Larkins, William T. U.S. Navy Aircraft 1921-1941, U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914-1959: Two Classics in One Volume [Appendix D Squadron Insignia]

National Geographic Society. National Geographic Magazine. Vol. LXXXIII, No. 6. Jun, 1943. Plate XXXI.


National Geographic Society. Insignia and Decorations of the U. S. Armed Forces. December, 1944. p 180.


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